Spying and tests come under fire

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 November, 2009, 12:00am

Detective agencies, which have begun advertising their services amid publicity over plans for random drug tests in schools, say they are receiving an increasing number of inquiries.

But frontline social workers say the practice is 'ridiculous and useless' and will only increase mistrust between parents and teenagers.

'About 10 cases requesting us to spy on children's behaviour, especially drug abuse, have been received every month in the past six months,' a private detective giving his name only as Chan said.

Chan, head of the detective agency Morgan Company and a former police officer, said surveillance was conducted mainly through videotaping the daily activities of the targets.

'Our targeted teenagers are aged between 15 and 19 and mostly female,' Chan said. They usually came from middle-class families whose parents can afford to pay at least HK$3,000 a day for the service.

The government recorded 2,417 newly reported drug users in the first half of the year, of whom 1,324, or 54.8 per cent, were under 21, and 609 people aged 10 to 20 were arrested in the same period for drug offences such as trafficking and possession.

Another private detective, David Cheung Dai-wei, said: 'We receive four to five cases a month on average and 90 per cent of cases prove related to drug abuse.'

Four or five days of tracking was usually enough to find out whether a teen was using drugs, he said. Weekends and festivals, such as Halloween, when teenagers went out to enjoy themselves, were good times for operations.

North District youth outreach team leader Paul Lo Po-sing said it was ridiculous for parents to hire private detectives to track their children.

'Talking to your children is a much better way to know about them taking drugs or not than hiring a detective to spy on them,' he said.

Meanwhile, more than 80 per cent of 3,222 secondary school pupils polled in Kwun Tong said they would join a voluntary drug-testing scheme at schools, a survey has found. A total of 77.8 per cent of the pupils polled by the Boys' and Girls' Association recently supported introduction of the scheme and 88.2 per cent said they would participate.

But association outreach social worker Lai Kui-yuen said pupils also had concerns.

'The drug-testing programme touches on privacy and might cause discrimination and embarrassment, and these factors all make students feel worried. The scheme must uphold confidentiality,' Lai said.

In a separate survey conducted by the Women Teachers' Association and the Education Policy Concern Organisation last month, more than 80 per cent of 757 teachers said drug use among teenagers was a serious problem. Seventy per cent said they supported drug testing in schools.

But 77.94 per cent were worried the scheme would increase their pressure at work, as they had to devote more time and resources to help pupils with drug problems.

About 69 per cent said they lacked knowledge about drugs and about half said they were worried their relationship with pupils would become tense under the scheme.

The groups urged the Education Bureau to consult teachers more. Testing is due to start next month.

This is an edited version of a story that ran in the South China Morning Post on November 2